This will be the first in a series of writings meant to provoke thought, analyze different aspects of our lives and overall bring forward subjects that may be uncomfortable to discuss. The issues mentioned in these posts feel like an important step to diversify the content of the blog. As for the content itself it will cover current issues or rising curiosities that come to mind from time to time. Now, onto the subject matter.
Slavery as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary states that it is the practice of slaveholding, the state of a person in forced servitude or a person that is entrapped and exploited. According to our history slavery was abolished, though there are remnants of it in the form of human trafficking. The expanded definition states that people who are entrapped or exploited could also be referred to as slaves. A lot of people in our society sometimes call our current labor system a kind of slavery. They work to pay off debt. A debt that is accrued and even heightened by a system that forces people into acquiring debt to build a payment reputation called credit. Subsequently they require this credit for loans, be it a car loan or a mortgage. This is in a nation that heavily relies on cars for transportation and sells the dream of the single family home. The nation in question is the United States, one of the richest countries in the world. It is with this preface that I open this discussion and criticism about our modern subservience.
Work has been for a long time the avenue for many to afford living. Thus by extension a person who does not work cannot afford to live. Is the value of life lost because of this? Of course not, though some people might actually argue such a thing. The general lack of empathy could be the topic of another writing. We have seemingly entered a time where people are only valued for the amount of work they can perform. People needing an income to afford basic necessities like food and shelter forces people into a situation where they need to work no matter what they can or cannot do. In order to make this more poignant I take a line from the declaration of independence of the United States which says, “we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. This is said in one of, if not the most important document of the nation. Despite this there is no guarantee of having these Rights. Our economic system is obsessed with profit. Slowly, with each passing year, we bear witness to how the value of work has been reduced. Even with a decent salary some people will find their savings, if they have any, drying up as a result of inflation. People are not voluntarily working for their own betterment or the betterment of society, they work because the alternative is starvation or homelessness. This is the modern whipcrack, but it is not a powerful sting in the back and bleeding out in front of the other slaves. It is the slow painful death while surrounded by indifference and condemnation. We look at the homeless like pests, less than human. We look at them like we look at animals scrounging for scraps. The blame of losing a job is often placed solely on the worker. In recent times we have seen companies lay off thousands of employees with little consequence. Inflation is also blamed on a higher amount of people being able to work. They are then laid off and condemned to the stress of a new job search that could prove unfruitful. Technological advancements that are meant to ease our lives and work have turned into the threat of unemployment. Companies see automation as a way to get rid of employee salaries and as a way to continue to enrich their already bloated executives. Yet it was said, once, that one of our fundamental rights is to live and be happy. Such a thing is a fading dream to many. As it stands there are parts of the US where even holding a steady job does not guarantee the ability to survive. Some people in these situations use what few alternatives they have. A second job, investing what little they have or going into more recent high risk endeavors like cryptocurrencies or non fungible tokens are some of the options people can take. Meanwhile our politicians turn away and bicker amongst themselves, constantly shifting blame and deepening their senseless rivalries.
In recent times a number of employers have popularized the saying that people do not want to work anymore. To be frank, a lot of people probably never really wanted to work at all. It is only through that hidden cattle prod known as starvation that people are pushed to find a job. With salaries being barely enough to sustain most families the tolerance for a workplace that does not value its employees has vanished. No one can really choose not to work. Only the very few wealthy can easily manage this. Extreme wealth drives an adverse effect on the economy. It is essentially a pile of money that goes nowhere but a few select individuals. This is in contrast to people who have barely enough. There is no balance to this. One person should not hold so much so that they would have enough for several lifetimes. The government, through taxation, could help prop up the rest of the population. It can reassign a lot of money that lies stagnant into the economy. If the economy works with a limited amount of currency then those who hold the most of it are doing nothing for it. When the extremely wealthy choose to invest they do so on other high wealth endeavors, keeping the money within their own circle. Their wealth alone could solve many issues, but instead, either by willful greed or plain indifference, they choose to retain their wealth. In the political side of things, wealthy politicians can sway public opinion by pouring money into the media.
We live within a system of limited resources. This limit is not recognized by a lot of people, particularly those who have too much money in their pockets. Housing is one such limited asset. The less supply, the higher the prices because demand increases. A person who cannot afford a house is forced to rent or live with a relative. This might impact what job opportunities they might have. Rent spikes are not unheard of and can also push people into homelessness. A person without a home address will have little to back them up. Some even opt to live in their cars, risking what little they have.
The advent of new forms of artificial intelligence has caused quite a bit of turmoil recently. Jobs that seemed otherwise out of reach from automation are now threatened. Art, writing and in some cases programming itself are things that an AI can replicate. These new systems have the potential to lighten the load of work on people. Sadly, instead of relieving the workload it might end up removing employment positions entirely. This turns the innovations of AI into a problem, not because of the innovations themselves, but because our economic system is tied to the basic needs of a person. Automation should be the tool that returns us the time we lose and lost while working to gain income. Time we could use to learn more and to live more. We should have the availability to seek happiness and that of those around us if so needed. Free time is essential for our innovations. It is essential for our art and culture to thrive because it enables people to expand their creativity beyond the scope of being forced to create things strictly for profit.
A possible solution to the problem of having to work to survive would be to provide a basic source of income. As the popularity and application of automation rises, so does the need to ensure that people can continue their lives. The future will require less people in the workforce. It should be liberating not a condemnation. For some there is always the excuse that funding must be found to sustain such programs. Though the excuse often falls short when deciding to fund military efforts.
Our economic system has to adapt. A lot of people do not recognize that it is a system that is strictly for calculating values. It is a balance that reacts to its main drivers, supply and demand. There is nothing in it that is humane in its applications. Thus essential elements like food and shelter rise in cost. Through the manipulation of supply and demand we arrive at the problems we face today. Our economic system needs to evolve with us and it must be made more humane. This disconnection with our very existence will drive more people towards misery, homelessness and starvation. Take for example the price of food. In the pure economic sense, in order to drive a reduction in demand prices increase, but food is an essential need of people. Demand for food increases with the population so the net effect is a perpetual increase in price. A similar effect is seen in higher education. An entire generation was told from early on that a career would grant them high wages and job stability. As demand for higher education increased, so did its cost. It also encouraged businesses, in the form of private colleges, to rise to meet demand. Sadly inflation is outpacing the increased wages, making the efforts of many feel pointless. That is, when such wages were actually offered. Companies have used this increase in education to add more requirements to positions. This often results in adding years of experience to a posting that might not really need such a requirement. Limitations in supply also increase price. Housing is one such item. In cities where demand is high the cost of buying a house and even renting is very high. Very little is done to mitigate this problem. Then there are people who had the capability to buy houses years ago and now rent their properties out. Those were most likely wealthy enough then, and now even more so. A group of people looking to make a profit out of other’s needs. A shelter, a home, is essential for survival. A person or a family with a stable home can acquire groceries, buy appliances and so on. It moves the economy through the consumption of goods. A lot of people do not see this. We have money hungry corporations who can increase rent by 20% or more on apartments without a thought as to how it will affect the tenants. At many times this is driven by executives whose only goal is to hoard blindly.
Politicians have a knack for turning important topics into buzzwords that they can easily dismiss. They will often twist the meaning and simplify something as complex as an economic system. Some scream socialism or communism without a second thought. Oftentimes we see people going against these systems lacking any knowledge of what they entail. People who are obsessed with their political parties will then spread their fear around. Few, if any, stop to actually research any of the known economic systems. Our systems should be adaptable. We shouldn’t have to apply a single thought line to everything because it denies our very nature. That we are a diverse group with varying needs and wants. Any economic system we choose to have must possess a large dose of humanism or we will never grow with them. They will forever become avenues that people in power will abuse for their own gain. Greed will be our undoing. Whatever we call our economy it must respond to us and our needs, not the other way around. It is imperative that we don’t just choose one, but instead build something tailored to our needs.
Food, shelter, healthcare and education. These are the fundamental needs of every human being. Some might argue that education isn’t a fundamental need, but without it we cannot have a functioning society. If we could find a way to ensure these four elements as unalienable Rights we could perhaps finally move forward as a civilization. It is shameful that despite our technological advancements we still haven’t found a way to balance this out. We have economists, scientists, financial analysts and others who could convene and do the necessary work to make these things a reality. Sadly, such a thing will remain a dream as long as politicians, blinded by their greed, power and rivalries, continue to diverge from the problems that affect us. They alone, with very few exceptions, are responsible for many of our problems. As elected leaders many do not recognize the influence they have on their followers. In their constant, short sighted endeavors they condemn the future of many either through inaction or indifference.